Pulse on NEPAL | Covid-19 Safe Mountains

Raj from ETP starts work in Nepal on COVID Safe Mountain Tourism, along with other industry colleagues. The first stop is Helambu trek.
26 Oct

Pulse on NEPAL | Covid-19 Safe Mountains

5 mins read

October is normally the kick start of the trekking season in Nepal. But this year the Nepali Mountains have been quiet from trekkers for the past eight months. Even though the government is opening up for visitors, this season will be different. The trekkers that will find their way up to these beautiful mountains, will be few. And, how prepared are the villages and guesthouses for a covid-19 safe (as possible) trek?

Raj Gyawali from socialtours and Ethical Travel Portal just returned from a trek to Helambu. A trek he did first time in 1996 together with his brother and cousin. A trip that started on top of the roof on bus jumping its way to Melamchi Bazaar. Full or energy, ready for six days in the mountains! The first night they stayed in a small lodge before starting their arduous seven-hour trek to Shermathang.

Raj tells that the trek back then was just as amazing as it is today. They were rockies and it took them hours to reach anywhere! It didn’t matter. They had time. Every evening was spent with locals, chatting, drinking, and eating the most amazing local meals! 

One memory stands out to Raj while in Melamchighyang as they were dancing all night long in front of the monastery. An impressing 80-year-old grandma kept dancing and drinking the local brew the whole night! Non stop. Today the old grandma lives in his memories. This important monastery has been rebuilt. It had serious damages during the earthquake of 2015… Which is another story of the Nepali resilience!

Raj Gyawali | Covid-19 safe

This was Raj´s first trek and possibly the trigger that brought him into the tourism industry as an entrepreneur six years later. So no doubts it is a region which is close to his heart!

Covid-19 Safe Mountain Protocols

This time Raj went together with Amrit from Himalayan Quests, Mingma from Thamserku, Chhewang and Galjen from Responsible Treks and Jitendra from Explore Dolpo, were on a completely different mission. The aim of this trek was to check on the Covid-19 Safe Mountain Protocols and to get an understanding how to restart trekking during this pandemic.

The team also wanted to check out Helambu trek during the monsoon. Plus, the mountains were calling after months-long quarantine in the Kathmandu Valley!

Below are some images from the Helambu trek Raj & team did in October 2020. All photos by Amrit Ale from Himalayan Quests.

What did they learn during their trek?​

Between them they have huge field experience in different parts of Nepal. And with that they can draw some conclusions and work out some potential solutions.

The overnights were done in Chipling, Kutumsang, Tharepati, Melamchighyang and Shermathang, with four to six hours of hiking each day. The locals were as usual – happy in their green zone, yet apprehensive of the threat COVID and the potential traveller posed. Because some of the villages do not have a road, nor a medical expert. But the months of waiting and missing out on one of the sources of income which tourism provides has taken its toll. There is a need in this area to prepare for tourism to be brought back safely, or might unsafely succumb to the onslaught that could come with tourism.

With pro-action and preparedness, tourism is possible. In the villages, the team did the first layer of training to locals and lodges. Back in Kathmandu, the team collected video footage from the talented videographer adventure Amrit Ale and developed the two videos below on proaction and preparedness.

– Notable for us was the discussions we had in Melamchighyang with one of the most famous educators in Nepal, Purna Gautam. He gave up his future as an engineer to build a school in this village 35 years ago. It has become one of the most reputable village schools in Nepal today. We learnt so much from him about the local psyche, and about how to strategize the return of trekking tourism.

The Helambu Trek today

The Helambu region today also boasts a Climate Trek. It was developed post-earthquake, and uses comfort lodges in several of the villages en route which runs on solar energy and with improved heaters. One of them in Shermathang even includes Hemp walls. The culture and people, of course, are still the same as what Raj experienced 24 years ago. There is pro-action amongst the communities in the destination, as the destination becomes the first in Nepal working actively around the Visit Helambu label.

The area is still stunning and retains the beautiful mix of culture and nature that is reminiscent of ancient Beyuls, probably why the word conjures images of lush valleys, gushing rivers, and a rich mix of flora and fauna where people live happily in peace. To the ones who have never heard of the word, Beyuls are valleys that dot the Himalayas known to retain the secrets to Enlightenment – a place where Tibetans brought sacred Buddhist scriptures and protected them, and kept practising, during times when Buddhism faced populist onslaughts.

– Bringing tourism back here requires all stakeholders in the value chain to work together to create safe practices that protect communities and also provides the much-needed income that comes from tourism. It’s not that difficult, but very important. This involves getting everyone trained on the basics of prevention and the specifics of best practices.

You can browse through our journeys in Nepal here.

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